LIFEWTR AND CFDA BRING EMERGING DESIGNERS FRONT AND CENTER
by KRISTOPHER FRASER
COURTESY of HL GROUP
Premium water brand LIFEWTR, a PepsiCo owned label, is about more than keeping their customers hydrated. They are also about helping to foster the new generation of design talent. This season at New York Fashion Week the water brand teamed up with Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to host a presentation to showcase three of the newest designers breaking onto the fashion scene: Ji Won Choi, Daniel Cloke, and Jamall Osterholm. The three young talents were selected from CFDA’s inaugural Fashion Future Graduate Showcase in 2017, and given the opportunity to create and show their collections on the official NYFW schedule. Their designs were also featured in LIFEWTR’s latest series, Diversity in Design.
The brand’s sixth series celebrates how diverse perspectives enhance our collective cultural experience and features talents who use design as a medium to express diverse backgrounds, share original perspectives and inspire positive change. LIFEWTR and CFDA were committed to getting the most diverse group of designers representing every difference in cultural aspect from ethnicity to sexual orientation to showcase where fashion is headed. In preparation for these designers formal introduction to the industry, LIFEWTR and CFDA provided each designer with access to industry leaders and top producers, stylists, makeup artists and other talent to help them bring their vision to life, and have their work seen by influential retailers, editors, tastemakers and customers ultimately advancing their careers.
“Through our partnership with LIFEWTR, we are able to continue to support the careers of our emerging talents beyond Fashion Future Graduate Showcase, which was their first point of contact with the CFDA,” said Steven Kolb, president and CEO of CFDA. “The New York Fashion Week presentation with LIFEWTR helps us highlight the next generation of talent.”
In addition to the career-changing opportunity to show at NYFW, each designer will have their work showcased as part of the latest LIFEWTR bottle series, which will be available nationwide beginning August 26 in four sizes: 20oz, 500mL, 700mL and 1L, as well as multipacks.
AS IF had the pleasure of sitting down with Choi, Cloke, Osterholm, PepsiCo vice president Olga Osminkina, stylist Tess Hubert, and videographer Brendan Burdzinski.
Stills from the CFDA and LIFEWTR presentation
“Through our partnership with LIFEWTR, we are able to continue to support the careers of our emerging talents beyond Fashion Future Graduate Showcase, which was their first point of contact with the CFDA.”
— Steven Kolb —
JI WON CHOI
Ji Won Choi is a fashion designer, whose work investigates human cultures, using design to promote positive change. Choi, who was born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Oklahoma, is a graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York City and Paris where her thesis collection garnered accolades from numerous industry powerhouses including Kering and Yoox, for which she developed an exclusive capsule collection. She has also partnered with the world-famous Bergdorf Goodman department store.
“Working with CFDA has been very smooth,” Choi said. “Everyone wants to help out and be super helpful, and it’s been the bext experience possible for me.” Choi acknowledges that without this partnership she would not have shown at New York Fashion Week this recent season. “We would never have the opportunity to have this production team, PR, and all these huge teams of people,” Choi said. “That kind of support I would never get anywhere else.” She considers her greatest learning experience from partnering with CFDA and LIFEWTR realizing how many people it takes to actually put on a fashion show. No designer is an island with CFDA and LIFEWTR. This collaboration marked Choi’s third full collection, and while sustainability has been a big part of her brand for so long, when she designed past collections the fabrics weren’t always sustainable.
“When I did my thesis at Parsons the entire concept and idea was about sustainability, but the actual fabrics weren’t sustainable,” Choi said. “For this collection I was actually able to find fabrics that were environmentally responsible, and CFDA was able to give me the contacts to find that. Having the opportunity to create this collection enabled help me to further my ideas.”
Daniel Cloke is a menswear designer working at the intersection of artistry and engineering. The Rhode Island School of Design graduate draws from a rich personal mythology to create complex and opulent clothing. Cloke's process focuses on knitwear technique, in which he examines traditional methods and re-contextualizes them through new technology. Cloke, who has held positions at influential American fashion houses including Alexander Wang, Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis, expresses his design versatility through textile development with a focus in knitwear.
Cloke was no stranger to the CFDA. He had done a few projects with them back in college, so he was in their database of emerging designers. CFDA and LIFEWTR had reached out to him to tell him about the collaboration, and it started off as a business conversation that turned into his first full-scale collection at New York Fashion Week.
“The biggest difference from my past creative process is doing whatever I wanted and not having that school atmosphere of critique around,” Cloke said. “It was nice having the support of CFDA and LIFEWTR with all these amazing resources, and they know who to talk to if I want a certain piece to be made. It’s come out a lot more professional and creative than past designs.”
“It was nice having the support of CFDA and LIFEWTR with all these amazing resources, and they know who to talk to if I want a certain piece to be made. It’s come out a lot more professional and creative than past designs.”
— Daniel Cloke —
Cloke fully acknowledges how CFDA and LIFEWTR has opened the door for him to full production capabilities. With a strong focus on knitwear, CFDA and LIFEWTR made it possible for him not to hand knit everything himself like he has in the past. For his collection, he subverted staple menswear pieces with very feminine details and fabrics. While Cloke categorizes his clothes as menswear and it is shown on male models, he believes anyone should be allowed to wear his clothes. He’s hoping to see the whole unisex and genderless fashion idea explored more, although he isn’t interested in doing anything too commercial.
Cloke says the best thing he’s got out of working with LIFEWTR is, “This entire production of a show. I’ve never been filmed before, this has really pushed me out of my comfort zone, and now I feel a lot more comfortable because of that. It’s amazing to have the support of someone who really believes in my artistic vision.”
Rhode Island School of Design graduate Jamall Osterholm is a Providence-based menswear designer. With a primary focus on futurism as it pertains to the now, Osterholm's work explores topics such as race, identity and gender in an attempt to challenge stereotypical notions. His collections are a reflection of his own life experience and have been shown at New York Fashion Week and New England Style Week, as well as in prominent features in i-D, Vice and Paper.
“It’s extremely important for companies like LIFEWTR to be supporting emerging talent,” Osterholm said. “It’s not every day that a young designer has the platform we are getting with LIFEWTR and the CFDA. It’s really hard to enter those really big spaces when you are on your own. The fact they are reaching out to support young designers is a really important thing. It gives us an opportunity and lets other people know and see they can climb to those heights.”
Osterholm is only a year-and-a-half out of school, and his recent collection at New York Fashion Week started coming about earlier this year right after the New Year. This marks his third collection since he graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, and he acknowledges LIFEWTR and CFDA as the biggest platform he’s ever had. He’s also most excited about the water bottle his art is featured on. “Fashion and design is often inaccessible for most people, but LIFEWTR is very accessible, so it’s a little piece of my work that everyone can have,” Osterholm said.
He believes that now we are at a pivotal point where fashion is more diverse than ever, which is quite fitting giving LIFEWTR’s extra vocal support of diversity with this series. “People in fashion want to know now more than ever about perspectives from people of color,” Osterholm said. “We are now really being taken seriously and people want to hear our voices. It’s a really good time for me to give my point of view.”
Osterholm takes a strong focus on making his work about his Blackness, although he makes it clear that “my work is not just for Black people, it is for everybody.” He’s glad that thanks to programs like LIFEWTR and CFDA that Black designers are finally starting to see a place for themselves in fashion, where there wasn’t one before. Going forward, he has plans to keep building his brand DNA and his longterm goals are to create more products people can buy without losing the integrity of his art.
To capture the spirit of the collection in live-action, videographer Brendan Burdzinski was brought in. Burdzinski was contacted by CFDA through a colleague after he recently shot New York Fashion Week: Men’s. Burdzinski is working on a documentary style film on all the designers involved. “I have a deep respect for everything these designers are doing,” Burdzinski said. “I love how new up-and-coming people are pushing the limits.” While Burdzinski has covered fashion shows for ten years plus he says this is different because, “This is showcasing the new generation. I’m used to covering labels that have been around a long time. It’s nice to use that as a way to contrast, because the production value on these shows is still really high. Just working with younger talent is really incredible. Being surrounded by younger talent keeps me on my toes.”
In the spirit of collaboration, up-and-coming New York-based stylist Tess Herbert was brought in to help with the creative direction of this project. Herbert got involved thanks to her friend who works at the CFDA. Herbert has previously worked with the CFDA on other styling projects. For the past two years, Herbert has been a freelance stylist. She’s styled performances at MoMa, in addition to editorials for Vogue. Prior to being on her own as a stylist, she was an assistant stylist to the fashion director at Vogue. Her favorite thing about collaborating with CFDA and LIFEWTR is how organized it's been. “I came in with the designers who had a very established idea of what they wanted to do,” Herbert said. “It wasn’t as much creative input as I’m used to, but more guidance and accessory pairing.”
“This isn’t a project, this is a lovechild,” said Olga Osminkina, vice president, hydration & innovation, global beverage group, PepsiCo. “I was behind the conception of the brand. To me and the whole team, this brand is about more than the product. Moreso, we’re also helping emerging creative talent make it in this world. For me, creating LIFEWTR was about helping emerging talent find their destiny. I want LIFEWTR to inspire other initiatives like this and do something meaningful for the creative space.”
When helping to select the designers, Osminkina believes credibility is everything. She also isn’t focused on making them a marketing gimmick. The talent is selected through the Cultural Council, and Osminkina has been able to form a real family of people who believe in supporting emerging talent through CFDA and LIFEWTR. Each year, they work to identify an issue that they really want to bring attention to through this series, and this year it was cultural diversity and diversity of design. “We select talent who we feel has the true potential to make it,” Osminkina. “That becomes their ‘secret’ sauce if you will. LIFEWTR and CFDA are very proud of this relationship we have formed. If you ask Steven Kolb, I’ll dare to say he is as well because of so much alignment we have with our mission and purpose.”
Osminkina believes the intersection between fashion, culture, and companies like LIFEWTR is so imperative because, “Fashion is art, it’s just living art. It’s one of those outlets that allows more people to appreciate art as a result of it. Supporting emerging talent in fashion is when real artistry happens. These designers haven’t been boxed in or guided by the commercial nature of the business. Each one is so unique. What we are doing with CFDA and fashion allows living art to find many eyeballs and people to start talking about these creative individuals.”
“Fashion is art, it’s just living art. It’s one of those outlets that allows more people to appreciate art as a result of it.”